The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, January 02, 2006

A little Diem follow-up

While I was away (it seems) the Google Books function has burgeoned. The MO looks tricky - even where full text is available, it's strictly rationed.

Duh! They want you to buy the book, dumbass!

Beggars and choosers, yet again, though. And a morsel is available on the subject of Albert M Colegrove and his disobliging journalism (following up my piece of December 31).

In The Vietnam Lobby: The American Friends of Vietnam, 1955-1975 [1] by Joseph G. Morgan, there is a passage (starting on p57) dealing with the business, and the involvement of the AFV in the Congressional fallout [2]:

The strongest reaction to a critical appraisal of developments in Vietnam was prompted by a newspaper exposé of the shortcomings of Diem's government and the US aid program. Journalist Albert M Colegrove worked for the Scripps-Howard papers and had been sent to Saigon in the summer of 1959 to investigate US foreign assistance projects. After a ten-day stay in the RVN, he returned to the United States and wrote six articles asserting that the American program had done little "to guide Vietnam to the day when she can support herself" and that Diem ran "a hard-fisted government" that ruled through "countless laws promulgated after police state practices." Colegrove's articles sparked an uproar in Washington and Saigon. US and Vietnamese officials angrily refuted them and congressional committees made plans to investigate their credibility.

The Colegrove articles also provoked an angry response from AFV members, who worried that the allegations posed a threat to the US aid program to Saigon. Walker Stone, the managing editor of the Scripps-Howard papers, received a letter from O'Daniel that castigated the pieces as "disgraceful” examples of journalism. A memorandum appended to this note disputed the articles, questioned Colegrove's qualifications and professional conduct, and asserted that the series had been the source of "much joy in Moscow, Hanoi and Peiping...because what the Communists failed to achieve in five years - to cast doubt on the Free Vietnamese and the American aid program there - was accomplished in one week of headlines." Father Raymond de Jaegher accused Colegrove of engaging in "unfactual muckraking," and Wesley Fishel condemned the reporter for writing "silly and irresponsible" pieces "filled with falsehoods, half-truths, and distortions."

The AFV also tried to influence the congressional hearings sparked by Colegrove's articles. It sent copies of O'Daniel's letter to Stone to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and asked if the general could appear as a witness. That request was turned down when the subcommittee conducting the inquiry decided to confine testimony to evidence given by Colegrove and senior US officials from Saigon, but the AFV had better success with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. No one from the AFV spoke to the representatives, but the head of the subcommittee conducting the investigation, Clement J Zablocki, represented a strongly anticommunist Polish constituency in Milwaukee and shred the AFV's conviction that leaders like Diem deserved US support. Together with Walter Judd, another AFV sympathiser, Zablocki sharply questioned Colegrove and criticized the negative tone of his stories. Moreover, Zablocki inserted letters and articles that contradicted Colegrove's allegations, including O'Daniel's note to Stone, into the record of the testimony...

The Colegrove articles marked an end to a period of AFV accomplishments in portraying Diem's regime as worthy of US support. The AFV had won the favorable attention of prominent and reputable private citizens and government officials, and its members had little trouble publishing laudatory assessments of Diem's leadership in national newspapers and journals. Moreover, they frequently rebutted or allayed doubts and criticisms of the Saigon administration. They were particularly successful in preventing leading figures of American's anticommunist Left from speaking out against Diem's policies. According to Jonas, the telegrams objecting to Ho Huu Tuong's death sentence forestalled open protests by American socialists, and the reassurances of an individual with left-wing credentials like those of Joseph Buttinger prevented public expressions of concern about the RVN's reported human rights abuses. This assertion is borne out in a letter in which Norman Thomas thanked Buttinger for sending a "long and careful, and, to me, convincing reply” concerning Vietnam's problems in the spring of 1958...

Much of the AFV's success in promoting and defending the Diem regime can be attributed to the unusually favorable environment in which it operated. Since conditions in South Vietnam were relatively calm in the late 1950s, the American press and public paid little attention, and the AFV faced, as Gilbert Jonas put it, "literally no organized force" to challenge its positive assessment of Diem's leadership. The AFV had little trouble in presenting its views to academics, journalists, politicians and officials who shared the group's conviction that communism must be stopped in Vietnam and that Ng Dinh Diem could do this with American help. Few Americans objected to the US presence in Vietnam, and critics such as Colegrove often called for more effective measures to shore up Diem's government, not an American withdrawal from Vietnam. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Colegrove declared that Diem had "accomplished a miracle" in creating a functioning government and that assistance to the Republic of Vietnam "is essential to the defense of America and the free world."

There are notes that go with this (on p183), that give a couple of the heds for Colegrove's series [3], as well as a snippet of commentary:
Mike Mansfield chaired the Senate subcommittee investigating Colegrove's charges. Although he admired Diem and applauded the AFV's work, he had misgivings about the character of the US aid program to Vietnam, especially its heavy emphasis on military assistance.

Mansfield, from what little I've gleaned so far, was, with JFK, one of the Catholic pols involved with Diem in his Maryknoll days.

He and all the other namechecks I hope to follow up by and by.

Back to playing with the new toy...

  1. The URL for the book on the results page is hideous: surely there should be a simple link somewhere obvious to a page on which you can buy the damned book!

    So I had to resort to an Amazon link...

  2. My copy-typing - caveat lector.

  3. The opening salvo in the Washington Daily News came under Fiasco in Vietnam, Our Hidden Aid Scandal on July 20, and the final under We Aren't Building Much Democracy in Viet Nam on July 25.

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